It’s April in Southern California and festival season is upon us. The biggest one is the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival, where American Express has been a sponsor for years. I’ve been several times in the past, and enjoyed those perks, since I have The Business Platinum® Card from American Express. But this year, since I wasn’t assigned to cover it as photographer, I didn’t think I would be able to take advantage of it.
No Amex Platinum House for me this year, I thought, even though I live in LA.
But might it be possible to do a last minute free-chella of sorts with my girlfriend for a weekend escape? Thanks to the Amex Business Platinum, I would be able to access the Amex Platinum House at The Avalon Hotel in Palm Springs, with up to three guests.
But it’s still a long drive to Palm Springs, and to make the trip worth it, I’d need a hotel. With room rates at many places hovering around $600/night, it would need to be booked with points. So it dawned on me that it might be possible to do the trip for just about the cost of a typical resort/parking fee, $35, excluding dinner and tips.
I first looked on Marriott.com, but even though there were lots of Category 5 properties, only those with hefty cash rates requiring immediate payment in full were showing up about a week out.
I however was able to find standard award availability at the DoubleTree by Hilton Golf Resort Palm Springs on Hilton.com, for 50,000 Hilton Honors points (with a $30/night resort fee, waived for award stays.) That’s worth $300 according to TPG’s monthly valuations. Even better, the rate was flexible so I could cancel it until the Wednesday before, in case my plans changed or I found a better deal.
As luck would have it, I was able to find last-minute Marriott Bonvoy award space at the Category 5 Renaissance Palm Springs for just 35,000 Bonvoy points with no resort fees, worth $280 according to TPG’s valuations.
This was even better, as the property is in downtown Palm Springs and walking distance to where we would want to be.
However, instead of points, I used the free night award certificate I selected as my Choice Benefit for qualifying for Marriott Bonvoy Titanium status. Likewise, by saving my stash of Hilton Honors points, I can now put those toward a fifth Night Free award booking later. If I had available one of the annual Category 5 free night certificates from an Amex or Chase Bonvoy cobranded credit card, I would have used those instead. Getting a $500-600 hotel room for just the cost of the card’s annual fee would make for an excellent deal.
With Hilton Honors Gold status via the Amex Platinum, I would have received free breakfast for two at the DoubleTree — but since I have Marriott Bonvoy Titanium status, I was also able to have complimentary breakfast for two at the Renaissance, as the property doesn’t have a lounge.
That was decided. We would go. Our drive Saturday morning was easy: we were there in just two hours, since most festival traffic had already passed the day before.
We arrived at the Renaissance just after noon and were welcomed by the front desk staff, who informed me that the self-parking price is reduced from $30/night to $20 for Bonvoy Gold and above. They had an upgraded room available, but the “junior suite” that the app was showing as available was not quite ready yet. We were happy to wait, and I got a call less than an hour later letting me know the room was available — however we had already hopped in an Uber to get to the party a bit faster.
The Platinum House web site promised to help one “relax, recharge, and get festival-ready.” We found it packed, but well-stocked with drinks.
Good-natured staff worked hard to attend to the crowd and serve delicious food. The menu included chilled gazpacho, assorted avocado toast, mini seared ahi tuna tacos, tandoori chicken skewers, banh mi lettuce wraps, Malabi Custard with turmeric and sicilian pistachio, and hummus with Moroccan carrots and English peas inspired by Dining Collection Chef Michael Solomonov.
Fresh sliced fruit and Mexican paletas (frozen fruit pops) were available too, but thronged by hungry guests, as was the rest of the food. Adding a couple of taco trucks would have been the perfect solution, but we aren’t complaining.
My girlfriend went to go have her eye makeup touched up by Milk makeup, and while she did that I went to check out the business lounge area, stocked with delicious cold-pressed juices from Little West as well as hot coffee and canned ice coffees from La Colombe.
As for the music, on Saturday the “Live DJ Sets and More” included DJ artists from Republic Records. It seemed like a lot of the Saturday crowd was more engaged with taking photos of themselves or enjoying the cocktails than the music, but when Metro Boomin took the stage there was a noticeable change of sound and the crowd was drawn in.
We hopped in an Lyft for a local Mexican restaurant that someone recommended for enchiladas. This hit the spot — then back to the hotel for a nap and a swim. Pretty good day.
Breakfast Sunday morning was in the hotel restaurant. With my Marriott status, we received a card good for “continental” breakfast for two with gratuity included, however we were able to help ourselves to the buffet including the omelette station.
It was a mile-long walk through Palm Springs to the Amex Platinum House, a nice warmup as we had RSVP’d in advance for a 10am Equinox guided run through downtown Palm Springs led by Precision Run co-founder and creative director David Siik. David was great, friendly and engaging. Easily one of the highlights.
Coming back to the Platinum House, there was cool water and cold towels with refreshing eucalyptus scents. We then waited to make a reservation for some of the advertised EQX Body Lab treatments. Even though we were seemingly among the first to check in that day after the run at 11am and had even asked about making a reservation the day prior, there were no massage slots open until after 2pm as they had been taken, we were told, by “VIPs”. So if you plan to visit an event like this in the future make sure you put your reservation in ASAP. Instead I signed up for a “skin-strengthening cryo-facial.”
While we waited, the food this time was much easier to find, more plentiful and the whole event felt more intimate and relaxing without the crowd of the day before.
Sitting on a big inflatable day bed under some shady trees was perfect with a Matcha, gin, and tonic cocktail as my girlfriend sipped on a mimosa. Our 12:45pm reservation for the cryo-facial was soon upon us.
While events were going to continue until 5pm, we left early to walk back to the Renaissance for a swim; thanks to our confirmed late check-out, we didn’t need to leave until 4pm. It was the perfect day of relaxation.
We posted up in the lobby restaurant for a late lunch, and after a fun Sunday afternoon, we left back to LA well before the massive rush of Coachella weekend traffic.
Total cost: $20 parking, $29 for Uber/Lyft. With tips, lunch and dinners it was a little more than the $35 I had aimed for, but nonetheless a fun and affordable weekend getaway.
Unfortunately the Amex Platinum House is only for Weekend 1 this year, but there are other Amex perks for Coachella you should definitely take advantage of if you are going to Weekend 2. Events like this make it even easier to keep the business version of the card in my wallet, as it creates outsized value despite a significant annual fee.All photos by the author.